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8 Acres and a Dream

By Staff | Mar 4, 2013

Special to the Chronicle

At the age of 28, Lars Prillaman bought eight acres of land in Jefferson County, right outside of Shepherdstown, in order to start Green Gate Farm, an organic farm he hopes will generate good natural produce and make use of the best of nature’s design.

Prillaman is going against the flow trying to start a farm at a time when many are failing. In 1935, there were 105,000 farms in West Virginia, but by 2010, that number had decreased to 23,000 farms according to an article about West Virginia agriculture written for the West Virginia Encyclopedia by Charles Sperow a former professor of Agriculture at West Virginia University.

Prillaman had been traveling through the southern United States, primarily Tennessee and Kentucky, as a musician not really sure what it was that he wanted to pursue as a career.

“I was traveling a lot, pretty aimlessly, not entirely sure what sort of path I was going to choose to stick with for my life. It’s scary and it’s depressing, especially when you’re 24 or 25, you haven’t finished college and you’re wondering, ‘what am I doing!'” Prillaman said.

He eventually came into contact with his former 4-H counselor, who had a farm with an open apprenticeship. He applied, and after working a few months, he decided that farming was what he wanted to do with his life.

“I don’t know that I necessarily believe in callings but for lack of a better word, I found my calling. I found something that speaks to me and I speak back to it,” Prillaman said.

In order to increase his chances for success, Prillaman asked his parents Grant and Lew Prillaman to join him in the venture. The three live in a farmhouse on the land, though Grant and Lew have other jobs as they work to get the farm going.

Grant teaches Spanish at Washington High School while Lew is a Librarian at the Middleburg Public Library in Middleburg, Va.. Prillaman hopes to make the farm profitable enough that they don’t have to work outside the farm in the years to come.

According to the West Virginia University Extension Service, the average size of farms in Jefferson County is 152 acres, while Prillaman’s is only eight acres.

“I don’t want to get bigger than what I and my family, and perhaps one or two interns or apprentices, can handle. I want to stay small and community oriented. Forty acres is plenty of room for all the produce and livestock I could ever hope or wish to grow,” Prillaman said.

Green Gate Farm now grows over 20 different types of vegetables and raises livestock such as chickens and hogs. Bill Grantham, Prillaman’s uncle, has been farming organically in Jefferson County since the late 80s, and has taught Prillaman much of what he knows about organic practices.

Prillaman and Grantham meet every Saturday at the post office in Shepherdstown to sell their goods. Prillaman tries to grow different produce than Grantham, so that the two farms aren’t in direct competition.

According to Sperow the decline in farming within the eastern panhandle, areas such as Jefferson County, has caused farmers to broaden their interests by growing more than one product at a time.

“New and non-traditional enterprises such as raising goats, trout and other fish production and organic crop production are increasing in importance,” Sperow said.

After two years of production/operation, Green Gate Farm is making headway in Shepherdstown as a source of good organic food. The farm provides produce for the popular caf, the Blue Moon, and Prillaman hopes to land accounts with other local restaurants.

“We made significant strides to move more towards organic,” said Jesse Boyd, the chef at Blue Moon.

Boyd said it seems like other restaurants in the area are also moving towards buying from local farmers.

“The appeal is supporting local and not having things shipped from across the country for no reason,” Boyd said.

Lars knows that if his farm is going to succeed he will need the support of his whole community, so right away he started a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program.

In a typical CSA, people pay for a stock in a farm’s produce and either pick up their produce at the farm or have it delivered to them. Each farm’s CSA program is unique. A full share in Green Gate Farm would cost $650 for 25 weeks of produce from May to November. Prillaman also offers smaller shares for $400. His CSA program is already at its cap with 25 members.

“I feel like that indicates the movement is growing,” Prillaman said.

Green Gate Farm is still in its early stages, and Prillaman is excited about the future and the potential his farm has to grow in the coming years.

“The first step was getting the house livable. Next we’ll work on the barns,” Prillaman said.

He wants to eventually increase the size of the farm and offer food to more local restaurants and residents. For now, he is happy with the progress of Green Gate Farm.

“I feel for our scale, we’re very successful. I ended our first year with a profit. I don’t feel that’s something many farmers can say,” Prillaman said.

Grant appreciates the new farming community that his son Lars and his friends are helping to establish in Shepherdstown.

“There’s a sense of being a neighbor. If we do a favor for someone they, in kindness, do something for us,” Grant said.

Lars realizes that community involvement will be a key ingredient to the success of his farm, so to help keep the community involved he maintains a Facebook page and a website for Green Gate Farm where visitors can comment or leave suggestions. The website is greengatefarmwv.com.